Virtual Dissection

All of us who attended public high school remember the fowl smell of the Biology and science classrooms. I remember feeling lightheaded and nauseated from the smell. I had trouble concentrating, and as a result did poorly on the dissection labs.  Formaldehyde soaked creatures were routinely picked apart under the guise of “science”, and still are, although I understand they use less chemicals now that they used to. I was one of those who hated science, particularly dissections, and to this day, I find it hard to see any relevance of viewing a worm’s intestines in my everyday life. Maybe I am the only adult who feels this way, but perhaps not? I would be interested to hear your views on this topic.

Haven’t we all been exposed to road kill along the highway? We know perfectly well that mammals have stomachs by seeing their bloated carcasses on the edge of the road. So, why do we still require our children to pick apart animals for dissection? Leonardo Divinci was fascinated with the human body, and learned to draw by viewing cadavers. But, few of us are Divincis, and we are definately not in the Middle Ages, so why does this practice continue?

With home schoolers, I think it’s sort of a Mom thing. We seem to think that because we were forced to do it, we should force our kids to do it also, right? Not necessarily.

Years after I was tormented in the science classroom, I found out I am DRASTICALLY allergic to formaldehyde. Actually, it is a very common allergen. Children may have severe reactions to this chemical including asthma, eczema, headaches. Symptoms may not appear until well after the exposure so it is difficult to track. It is in so many common household items, it’s frightening. Just look at this list:

Fabrics treated with formaldehyde resins and in which some free formaldehyde remains. Formaldehyde resins provide the unique qualities of the following fabrics:

  • Permanent press
  • Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-wrinkle and anti-shrink finishes
  • Chlorine-resistant finishes
  • Stiffening on lightweight nylon knits
  • Waterproof finishes
  • Perspiration proof finishes
  • Moth proof and mildew resistant finishes
  • Suede and chamois

  • Cosmetics and toiletries including fingernail polishers and hardeners, antiperspirants, makeup, bubble bath, bath oils, shampoos, creams, mouthwashes and deodorants. In many cases formaldehyde is used as a preservative.
  • Household cleansers, disinfectants and polishes
  • Paper products — formaldehyde is used to improve the water resistance, grease resistance, shrink resistance and other characteristics of paper
  • Building materials — urea-formaldehyde glue or adhesive is used in pressed wood products such as particle board, plywood and MDF
  • Medications including wart remedies, anhidrotics, medicated creams, orthopaedic casts and root canal preparation disinfectant
  • Paints, primers and paint-stripping agents
  • Embalming fluid and as a preservative for laboratory specimens
  • Formaldehyde is released in the smoke from burning wood, coal, charcoal, cigarettes, natural gas and kerosene
  • Here are some other common items that contain formaldehyde, and how to avoid them. Can you believe it’s even in some children’s vitamins?

    Whether the allergy came first, or was a product of the dissection experience, I don’t know. But, it is safe to say that dissection is not for everyone. Why would we expose our kids to this stuff if it’s not really necessary?

    Our oldest son really enjoyed dissections. We had a great group of Mom’s who helped run the labs and all the kids would get together and dissect. It was rather challenging to have to find and clean up all the fish guts and scales flying around the kitchen, but overall they all seemed to enjoy it.

    Enter son number two. Everything is so different the second time around. Ted really dislikes the dissections. You can see the repulsive expression on his face:

    Of course it probably didn’t help that I made him do his dissecting outside, I didn’t want the slimy critters in my kitchen.
    After completing the worm and the crayfish, he began to question the morality of picking apart one of God’s helpless creatures for our own benefit.
    Not everyone has a sneaky little brother with a camera to view you in your misery of dissecting.
    Afterwards Ted had a good idea:
    “Mom, how come I can’t do a virtual dissection?”
    The light bulb came on in my brain, it was definitely an “Ah, ha” moment for me. I had forgotten these resources were available at no cost. Suddenly Biology didn’t seem all that painful.
    So, here you go. This is one of the best sites I found for simple virtual worm dissections. You can even take a quiz on all the body parts, and have the computer correct it for you. Very handy. Or you can answer the study questions, and perform your own dissection at home.
    This one is fun to do frogs:
    This site below is really extensive. It includes Biology II dissections such as the fetal pig, cat, sheep’s brain, cow’s eye and rat. There are informative links to various articles regarding the issue of dissection. I didn’t know that some Universities have already discontinued this practice. Some high schools have given the students a right to choose whether or not to participate in dissections.
    You can even donate to the cause of eliminating the classroom cruelty of dissections on this site.
    Had I done more research, I would not have wasted the money I spent on shrink wrapped critters and tools for Biology dissection. I think now I can safely throw away the 4 year shrink wrapped old cow eye that looks like a smashed Oreo in the package which we
    Designer Mom

    The Chocolate Pilot

    I am in the mood for chocolate today. I am baking brownies as I type this. We have been inspired to eat some chocolate treats that we normally wouldn’t, and even to have some laying around the house for company. As part of our history lesson this week we read the book Candy Bomber by Michael O’ Tunnell. This is an absolute MUST READ book!

    This is the story of United States Air force pilot Gail Havorsen, who was part of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1949. During his time in Germany, Gail met a group of German children one day while site seeing.  Gail happened to give them two sticks of gum which he had in his pocket. This small act of kindness escalated into an incredible story.
    The children’s reaction touched Gail so much that he recruited some of his fellow servicemen to donate their sweet rations to the children. Together they dropped 3 small parachutes with candy attached to them over Berlin. More servicemen became involved, and more drops were made.
    News spread of the candy drops, and soon hundreds of children and adults came to receive the drops. Candy, apparently was incredibly valuable on the black market during this time in Germany. They simply did not have access to this luxury during or after the war. World wide people and companies began donating candy and parachute supplies. It became so popular, news and media covered the event, which was called “Operation Little Vittles”. It is a GREAT story, and it changed the course of Gail’s entire life.
    Sixty years later the Germans were still honoring Gail for his “random” act of kindness. I guess you just never know what can happen when you respond in such a simple way to a need. We were so inspired, we made our own little parachutes out of scrap fabric and ribbon.
    The kids gave them names like The Candy Bomber and Stealth Bomber 101.
    Then we filled our little pouches with candy. We chose old fashioned varieties like Hershey’s chocolate, Double mint Gum, and Butterscotch hard candies.
     The boys dropped them from our second story loft to see if they would really fly.
    Yup, it worked. We spent a large part of our time testing this scientific principal. Home schooling is so much fun!
    We decided to keep our little parachutes with their candy pouches, and give them randomly to people who come and visit us. We also plan to tell them the story about the Chocolate Pilot and how one man’s act of kindness changed his entire life and inspired a nation of people.
    Have you committed a random act of kindness lately?
    Designer Mom

    Visual Learning Resources

    About a year ago, we had two of our sons tested for learning disabilities. We had know for years they had issues, but they were gradually making progress so we didn’t worry too much about having them tested a young age. But, since they were entering high school and middle school, we decided it was time. I was sure that after having home schooled our children for the last 11 years, I knew exactly how they learned. Boy, was I wrong.
    Our second oldest child, Ted we knew was dyslexic, among other things, but I still thought he was an auditory learner. I knew he was often attracted to colorful pictures or cartoons, so I thought he was visual, but things were pretty cloudy from there. He just struggled to learn no matter what. I am sure you know what I am talking about, every home schooling family has a struggling learner.
    Because of his dyslexia, Ted has always struggled with workbooks and notebooks. It is typical of a dyslexic child to have difficulty reading, writing and spelling. Although he struggled to learn to read, he still enjoys reading and will eagerly dive into any book I give him. I always try to get books on tape or CD from the library if they are available for him to listen to because he seems to really enjoy them.
    Imagine my amazement at his test results showing that he was actually not auditory AT ALL, but completely a visual learner. What??? 
    I felt like the worst Mom in the world. How could I not know this after all these years? How could I have been so blind? No wonder he has always struggled with school, I had been going about teaching him the wrong way.
    It was hard to change my thinking process at first. What had worked for my other kids would not work for him. Our oldest sons, Alex and James, were both auditory learners, and have never had any learning challenges at all.
    Ben, we discovered during testing, was completely auditory and not visual at all, I had completely misjudged his learning abilities too. But we will talk about him another day.
    At first, I tried to order video curriculum that went with the things we were already studying. The only problem was, not all curriculum comes with videos. We were already using Math U See, so that one was easy because it came with a video.
    Apologia Biology also a rather simple fix, I just ordered the computer CD’s that went with it. But, after receiving them I found they were not as complete as I would have liked. Certain topics were never covered in the video segments, and with his reading difficulties, it was difficult for Ted. Listening to the auditory CD was not enough for him to really comprehend the material.
    Some of the other courses he was taking such as English, Art History, Economics, Logic, and Literature had video material available, but it either required purchasing completely new curriculum or was very expensive. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money because I wasn’t sure our other kids would really use it later.
    One of our friends recommended an online resource called the Kahn Academy. It was started by a former hedge fund trader who began tutoring his family and friends remotely by computer in his spare time. Then, he started making You Tube videos of himself teaching various subjects.  Today he has more than 2,400 lectures COMPLETELY FREE on the web. He is supported by numerous corporations who use his videos for teaching and training their employees. Bill Gates is one of his supporters, and the Microsoft Corporation uses his videos. It is a great thing.
    Ted loves it. He has found videos on nearly every topic he has studied, and many that I never thought to challenge him with. We had the most amazing conversation one day on Fractional Reserve Banking. He often watches these in his spare time. They are colorful, entertaining, and well written. Best of all, they are only 12 minutes long. Even a child with ADD can sit and watch for 12 minutes.
    Just breezing through the list of subjects on their website, Kahn also offers SAT Prep, Singapore Math, California Standardized Tests, Algebra, Geometry, Physics, Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Logic, History, it goes on and on. There is so much material, you could practically use it exclusively for high school.
    Here’s what Bill Gates has to say about it:
    Millionaires and geniuses can’t be wrong.
    Designer Mom

    Learning to Row

    We are entering week 3 of the Learn to Row program here in Madison. Ted is training hard for his next Regatta in Duluth, MN this weekend. He is no longer complaining about sore muscles, and has gotten into the routine. They seem to spend most of their two hour practices on the water, unless there is lightening or high winds, then they move ashore and work on the ergs.

    They are amazing machines. The erg of choice is called the Concept II, which features digital readouts of how far and fast you are rowing. Sure beats the springs on my Grandfathers machine.
    When the kids were not on the water I explored the boathouse. Wow, these shells are huge!
    Guess training time is up, lets get out on the water!
    I love the way all the kids are involved in loading and unloading the boats. Everyone does their share. What strength and character building!
    Notice the blue oars? Each rowing club has their own oar design so you can spot them from a distance when they are in the water.
    Rowers in the Novice catagory begin by rowing in a wider boat before they move on to the shells. The training boats hold 16 rowers, the shells hold teams of 4 or 8.
    This is the junior team. These boats have 4 rowers, plus the coxswain who gives the orders.  This photo was taken at the Badger State Games Regatta, in Appleton, WI. They brought home quite a few titles that day!
    Can’t wait to see what they do in Duluth!
    Designer Mom


    My Grandfather had a rowing machine in his basement. I used to love it. I would go downstairs on hot summer days and row for hours in the cool, damp cellar. The “ergometer” (erg is Greek for “work”), was stainless steel and had 1-3 springs that you could attach to the oars for different levels of fitness. It was rather simple. After Grandpa passed away I inherited the erg, but eventually lost interest and sold the machine.

    By the time I was in college, I had the bug to row again, however, I had never participated in a competitive sport in my life. I chickened out. Yup, I admit it, I was chicken. The prospect of starting my athletic career with one of the top rowing teams in the country at University of Wisconsin-Madison where I went to school, was too much pressure. Who could blame me?

    We have recently relocated to Madison, 20 years after student life. I discovered that since we were students, there are now a couple of private rowing clubs that offer High School Learn to Row classes and competitive teams.

    Camp Randall Rowing Club on Lake Monona, has grown enormously, and their rowers have won a number Regatta titles this year alone. Their home base, Brittingham Boathouse has been extensively renovated and won an award for Historic Preservation from the city of Madison.

    I think its absolutely gorgeous. You can read more about their program on their website.

    In our state, it is difficult to find High School sports that we can participate in as homeschoolers. Wisconsin Athletic Association rules (WIAA) forbid participating unless you are a full-time student with a High School for most competitive sports such as football, soccer, swimming and tennis. This causes many homeschoolers to send their kids to public school in High School. Wisconsin is one of only six states that have this rule.

    There are fewer unsanctioned sports available, but rowing is one of them. I was very excited when I found this out. Rowing in particular, is becoming more popular nation wide. It used to be just for Ivy League colleges and few High School students had an opportunity to learn the sport before they joined a college team. There are more clubs and high school teams being formed nationally at this time. Some colleges are actively recruiting high school rowers and offering scholarships. Music to my ears! I decided our son Ted will be one of them.

    So, what does it to be a good rower? We will find out! Ted is going into his Sophomore year of our Cramer Homeschool Academy and is enrolled the Learn to Row Class for the summer. It’s all new to us, but I gotta tell you, so far I am IMPRESSED. REALLY, REALLY IMPRESSED. I will keep you posted every step of the way.

    Designer Mom